Gary Southway simply assumed there had been a mistake when he received a $2,325 monthly water bill late last year, claiming he had used almost 100,000 gallons in October.
After all, Mr. Southway’s monthly water bill for his modest three bedroom unit in Prospect ranged from under $40 (just over 1.600 gallons) for a good month, like when the family was on vacation, to just over $150 (just under 7,000 gallons) when he had visitors.
Surely, there was no way his water usage could have jumped by over 2,000 per cent, to 95,815 gallons, without anyone noticing a running tap or a leak, he thought.
He was reassured when a Water Authority inspector visited the unit and could find no leaks, telling Mr. Southway it would be impossible for such a small unit to use such a large amount of water in 30 days.
‘He said, because we are on the second floor and because we don’t have great water pressure, ‘that’s crazy’,’ Mr. Southway quoted the inspector as saying.
Mr. Southway was told his meter would be sent off-island to check its accuracy. There was talk of an amended bill that would reflect the Southway’s average monthly water use.
But Mr. Southway’s mood turned to disbelief when he received a letter from the authority last week, demanding payment and saying it was indeed possible that he had used that much water for the month. No faults had been found with the meter, the authority said, which means it can bill for the full amount.
‘The Water Authority Law is very clear,’ stated an email from Water Authority Deputy Director Tom van Zanten. ‘Unless a meter is proven defective, the readings thereon shall be proof of the quantities of water delivered to the premises connected to the public water system.’
‘It’s bloody crazy,’ Mr. Southway told the Caymanian Compass. ‘It’s ridiculous to hide behind the law. Just because there is a law it doesn’t mean that that law is correct, or right or morally right.
Mr. Van Zanten’s email to Mr. Southway also stated: ‘I do not think it is impossible to use 362.70CM (circa 100,000 gallons) of water in 30 days. Please note that this equates to an average flow of only 2.3 [gallons per minute], which is well within the normal flow rate of a ¾ [inch] water meter (10-15 gpm).’
‘The problem is that the onus is on me to prove I am innocent rather than them to prove I am guilty,’ the 39-year-old IT professional said of his plight. ‘Because they couldn’t find a problem with the meter they are going to bill me.’
Mr. Southway wants to know how he is supposed to have used all that water. The family was home throughout the month. His kids are too old to be accidentally turning and leaving on taps. In any event, all the taps in the house are in rooms that are used daily.
‘We have terrible water pressure. I would be interested to see what they say we would have to do to use that amount of water,’ he said. ‘It would be impossible not to notice. We would have had floods.’
Mr. Southway noted there were water outages in the area due to Water Authority works during October and wondered whether that could have affected his reading. But he said he has not heard of other neighbours receiving whopping bills like his.
The Water Authority refused to discuss the case with the Compass this week and would only say that any customer that has a complaint can write to the Board of the Water Authority or the Office of the Complaints Commissioner.
Mr. Southway said that’s more than he has heard from the Water Authority since receiving the letter. They have not been able to give him a clear answer on what his options are and emails and messages he has left with Mr. van Zanten have not been acknowledged, let alone returned.
The married father of two has vowed to fight the bill because ‘this could happen to me again and it could happen to other people,’ he said. But he admits he will be forced to pay if the authority threatens him with disconnection.
‘I’m panicking that they are going to cut me off because, while I have paid all the other bills I haven’t paid this big one,’ he said. ‘If I had a choice I would be switching water companies but nobody has a choice.’
He said the authority’s communications with him have been sloppy since he first contacted them. Promises to keep him updated have been broken. Messages have not been returned. A letter informing him that the meter was found to be accurate was for some reason sent to the wrong address, despite the authority’s bills making it to the right address every month without fail.
‘I think they don’t really care about their customers,’ he said.
‘I wish they would take it more seriously because I don’t think they really care. I think they feel if I just shut-up about it then the problem will go away.’